Friday, December 19, 2014

Almond-Hazelnut Chocolate Crescents

Do you love chocolate and nuts as much as I do? Given only one kind of dessert to eat for the rest of my life, I would choose something with chocolate (dark) and nuts.  If you are shaking your head up and down in agreement and are still planning on doing a little Christmas cookie baking this weekend, I have a recipe for you!  Looking over the long list of Christmas Cookie recipes that I've saved on my computer, I found this recipe for Almond-Hazelnut Chocolate Crescents. We've all likely made the classic pecan crescents before.  I love their flaky, melt-in-mouth consistency but I wanted to try something new and the title really sounded like it would be my kind of cookie. They are, in a word, Delicious!

These are also, crispy and delicate like the original pecan crescents but with the rich, luscious flavor of chocolate, ground almonds and toasted hazelnuts.  

The drizzle of chocolate on top of these cookies makes them even more delicious and pretty - and we love pretty during the holidays, right?

Just look at that crispy and delicate texture I was telling you about.  I think I could have ground the hazelnuts even finer but they still have that almost sandy texture that I love about crescent cookies.

Another one of my routines at this time of year is drinking tea in the afternoon.  On cold, winter days winter it just hits the spot.  These crescents were the perfect afternoon snack with a warm cup of Chai tea.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all of you!  May you experience the wonder of the season as through the eyes of a 2-1/2 year old :-)  Now, bring on the snow!

Almond-Hazelnut Chocolate Crescent Cookies

Adapted from Better Homes and
Printable Recipe

Makes: about 48 cookies

1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1-1/4 cups finely ground almonds (you can find almonds already finely ground)
1/2 cup finely ground toasted hazelnuts (filberts), without skins preferably
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1-1/4 cups butter, softened
1 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

6 ounces semisweet chocolate, melted, for drizzling over cookies
In a 350F oven, toast the hazelnuts in a single layer on a baking sheet for about 8 minutes.  Allow to cool.  When cool, transfer the hazelnuts to a food processor and pulse until finely ground but don't turn them into a paste. 

Combine flour, almonds, hazelnuts, and cocoa powder in a medium bowl and set aside. Beat butter in a large mixing bowl with an electric or stand mixer on medium-high speed for about 30 seconds. Add sugar and vanilla and beat until combined.  Scrape the bowl occasionally with a spatula. Add the flour mixture and beat on low speed just until combined. Cover and chill dough for about 2 hours until easy to handle.

Take spoonfuls of the dough and roll in your hands into 1-inch balls. On a flat surface, roll each ball into a short log with tapered ends and curve the log slightly into a crescent shape.  Place crescents 1 inch apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. I use a silipat.

Bake in a 350F preheated oven for about 15 to 16 minutes or until edges are set. Allow the cookies to cool slightly on the pan and then transfer to a wire rack to cool.

When the cookies are cooled, drizzle the melted chocolate them in a zig-zag pattern. Let stand until chocolate sets or refrigerate for about 20 minutes.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Snowflake Cookie Tree Stack

Oh, Christmas Tree; Oh, Christmas Tree!

I've had this cookie stack idea in my 'to do' file for a loooooong time, and finally got around to trying them this past weekend.  You may have seen them before but made with star cookie cutters.  There are even kits to make them. I had been looking for a set of 6 graduated stars for these but I when I looked through my Christmas cookie cutters, I found I had a set of 4 four graduated sizes of snowflakes cutters and realized I could try making 3-4 cookies of each size snowflake for the stack, starting with the largest and working up to the smaller ones at the top.  Then, the very smallest added for the 'topper'. Real trees aren't perfect pyramids either so I think my plan worked just fine :)

I found that the trees looked best using 10-11 cookies for each tree shape and 1 small cookie for the topper. I used royal icing on each cookie, allowing it to harden for just a couple of minutes and then started stacking and twisting each cookie slightly going up.  If the icing isn't hard enough, your tree may start to tilt as mine did but it's easy to straighten it out as you work because royal icing takes a long time to harden.  I bought a set of Wilton 'icing' brushes and found they worked really well to apply the icing.  So much better than trying to use a spoon or icing knife. 

When I finished stacking the tree, and before adding the 'toppers', I sprinkled them with white non-pareils and clear sanding sugar.  On one, I added tiny, round candy balls on the tips of the 'branches'.  I just dabbed a little more royal icing where I wanted to place them.  I have a tiny tree and angel in my cutter collection so used one of each for topping the trees. To place the topper, I put a dab of icing on the top snowflake, allowed it to set for about 5 minutes and then, carefully, added the 'topper'. 

They were really fun to make and I think they would make adorable, edible table decorations for a holiday dinner!

For the cookie recipe I used my tried-and-true Celebration Cookie Recipe. You can Click here to see the snowflake cutters I used and here to see the icing brushes I found.

How is your holiday baking going and how is your weather?  Damp and dreary here but above freezing and no snow.  Thank goodness for the holiday lights to brighten the dark days and nights!

Celebration Sugar Cookies

Adapated from Big Fat Cookies by Elinor Klivans
Printable Recipe

2 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cornstarch
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) vegetable shortening (I used Crisco)
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract

Combine the flour, cornstarch, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl and set aside. Using an electric mixer on medium speed, in a large bowl beat the butter, vegetable shortening and sugar until smooth and somewhat lighter in color, about 1 minute, scraping the sides of the bowl as needed during mixing. Add the egg, vanilla and almond extract and mix until just blended. On low speed, add the flour mixture until just incorporated. The dough should be soft and smooth.

Divide the dough in half and shape it into 2 disks about 6 inches in diameter. Wrap them in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm enough to roll without sticking, approximately 1 hour.

With the oven rack positioned in the center, preheat the oven to 350° F . Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mat.

Unwrap one piece of dough and place on lightly floured rolling surface. With a floured rolling pin. roll the dough out to about 12-inches wide and 3/16 inch thick and cut out cookies. Transfer the cookies to the prepared baking sheets using a thin spatula, placing them 1 inch apart. Unwrap the second piece of dough and repeat the rolling and cutting process. Dough scraps can be gathered, re-rolled and cut.

Bake one sheet of cookies at a time for approximately 14 minutes or until golden at the edges. Cool cookies on the baking sheet for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack or sheet of parchment or waxed paper to cool.

The cookies can be stored at room temperature for up to 1 week or frozen for one month.

Frost and decorate as desired. 

Royal Icing

Adapted from Martha Stewart
Printable Recipe

Makes about 1-1/4 cups

2-1/2 Tablespoons meringue powder
2 cups confectioners' sugar, or more to thicken icing
3 Tablespoons water
2 drops glycerin

Note: You can find both meringue powder and glycerin at JoAnn in the baking section or, if you don't have a JoAnn nearby your can find them here and here.

Add the meringue powder and confectioners’ sugar to a bowl Add water, a few tablespoons at a time and mix until the consistency looks good. Not too runny. Add more powdered sugar if needed. Beat for 1 minute. Add glycerin and mix thoroughly.

The icing will keep for several days in an airtight container. After you decorate the cookies the frosting will take about one hour to dry thoroughly so handle carefully until then.